ST. PAUL (AP) -- Minnesota seniors have let state lawmakers know that they plan to be much more active during the current legislative session compared to years past.
Around Minnesota, thousand of members of the Minnesota Senior Federation and AARP Minnesota are organizing to talk with legislators in their home districts, then converge on St. Paul to lobby for several issues, including better drug coverage and control of predatory mortgage lending.
They also want to advise caution in cutting programs for seniors as legislators struggle with the state's projected $4.56 billion budget deficit.
"We know and accept that we're going to take some hits when legislators balance the budget," said Michele Kimball, state director of AARP Minnesota. "But our members have some pretty good ideas to help, and we want to make sure legislators are listening."
That means lawmakers will be hearing from older Minnesotans early and often this session.
"It's time that the voice of older people be heard and respected," said Miriam Reibold, 85, of West St. Paul.
Reibold added: "We don't have all the answers, but we've got some of them."
Reibold said seniors want to "light the path for those younger people -- the baby boomers and generation X-ers and all the others -- who will benefit from what we have done. In turn, they will help future generations that follow them."
The increased presence coincides with a revitalized AARP in Minnesota. The organization has 630,000 members in Minnesota, but was a bit player on the political stage until last year, when national headquarters set up a state office with a paid staff.
Last session, AARP was a powerful and visible force in getting passage of the state's do-not-call law regulating phone solicitation.
AARP Minnesota has about 2,000 members active in legislative districts to lobby their legislators, and is "just getting started" in building an organizational structure of members to identify issues and strategies to tackle them, Kimball said.
That's a stage the Senior Federation has dominated for most of its 30 years, with regional organizations and local clubs that feed people, ideas and energy into the state group.
Now the federation is pushing Congress to approve its Canadian Prescription Drug Reimportation Program, which could open the door to regulate retail drug prices.
"So far, they haven't been willing to listen to reason on controlling the big drug companies," Stall said. "So here we are, a bunch of older people who seem to be able to do what Congress can't. If reasoning with them doesn't work, maybe shaming them will."
Reibold said the Senior Federation, AARP and similar groups are trying to help the rest of society "recognize the value of older people -- see that we're not a problem to be solved, but problem-solvers ourselves, people with valuable ideas and valuable experience."
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